Survivor: Edge of Extinction has a continuing problem, in its inability to feature close to half the actively playing cast. But why is that? Other seasons with a similar — but as Jeff Probst swears, not the same! — twist like Redemption or Exile Island still found time to allow almost all the contestants to talk now and then. So why has the editing seemed so out of whack here?
As is gradually becoming more clear, the problem with Edge of Extinction is a problem of numbers. As in: they never go down. During the premiere, it was not surprising that with a full 18 people to introduce, some received little screentime. That's not unexpected, and generally, those deficits are excusable, and get made up for as the season goes along.
This season, though, we're now entering Episode 5, and there are still 18 people left "playing" (for the sake of argument, let's pretend the Edge of Extinction inhabitants still qualify here). That's a lot of people to get through, just as it was in the first episode. What's more, every visit to Edge of Extinction thus far has featured at least one confessional from each player present. It's the problem of the perpetual premiere: The number of people never goes down, and not only that, we're forced to start off the episode by listening to each person who has already been voted out. No wonder we never hear from Kama.
The main problem with not featuring the active players is that, in addition to minimizing their game-playing efforts, it also passively spoils that they won't end up having much impact on the season's outcome. One episode of silence, even in a premiere, doesn't do this. After all — as highlighted TapeWatcherB65's classic "The Dog that Didn't Bark" post at Survivor Sucks — Tina Wesson won The Australian Outback after not having any confessionals in that season's big post-Super Bowl premiere episode (the most-watched premiere in Survivor's history). With Edge of Extinction however, where invisibility is now stretching to a third of the season, is that still plausible? Should we really think any of the first-timers who started off on Kama, who apart from Victoria and Ron have about two confessionals between them, might still be able to win? Probably not.
Not only that, but this silence has come because the show needed airtime for the people already voted out, currently residing on Edge of Extinction. That might be defensible if all those people still had a realistic chance to win. But they don't. While we still don't have any official word as to how the re-entry to the game will work, it's reasonable to guess that it will be like Redemption Island (or possibly the Outcasts in Pearl Islands), meaning at most, around two people — total — will re-enter the game. So unless Reem and Keith are two thirds of the final three, this does not feel like time well spent getting to know the eventual finalists.
Eventually, people may start raising the sail and dropping out of Extinction. This will ease the imbalance a bit. Still, though, between compulsory visits to the Jeff Probst Vanity Montage of Human Suffering at Edge of Extinction to the multi-episode Sia Special Subplot of Galline Theatrics, it's becoming difficult to see how and where the actual game of Survivor might ever find room to fit into this season. We've seen good gameplay by Rick, but he's out now. The Wardog has played really well, but as Ben forecasts, for how long? And while Ron's flashbacked delaying tactics with Joe were really fun, will he even be attending Tribal Council before the merge?
It's also frustrating that, in and of itself, the Edge of Extinction footage has actually been fairly interesting, and worth exploring. Watching people who've been voted out examine their feelings of betrayal and resentment has been interesting, and felt fresh. True, we've had some of that in past seasons with the Ponderosa videos, although those tend to be more positive and uplifting (they will also be a casualty of this twist, like exit interviews). Reem's bristly reception for Chris was a departure from Ponderosa tradition, at least. So it's different, and so far it's been fine. It's just not Survivor, because for the most part, those people's games are already over. It would have been fine had if, like Ponderosa, the Edge scenes had been a parallel, online-only series.
Oh well, maybe next time? (Probably not: We have to see Edge of Extinction for the same reason we had to see Exile and Redemption — because Probst wants us to believe that those people can still win.)
Luck vs. skill - the swap to three tribes
Is it even possible to have a modern season of Survivor that doesn't swap up from two to three tribes any more? Apparently not. Since the trend started in Cambodia, it's now been done *every* season that started with two tribes: Cambodia, Millennials vs. Gen X, Game Changers, Ghost Island, David vs. Goliath, and now here. That makes six times out of six opportunities, so ... it's hardly a surprise any more.
Swapping from two tribes to three tribes introduces much more randomness, because of the smaller tribes. But that's also the problem with it, as we've argued before: this frequently results in otherwise solid players, like Rick, being swap screwed.
From the show's perspective, rolling the dice like this increases the chances that alliances will be shaken up. Three tribes instead of two gives them one more chance that a new tribe will be formed where original tribal lines are blurred, or a powerful alliance is broken up, or an underdog trapped under such a majority breaks free and thrives.
This swap revealed a consistent problem, though: Being dropped into a five-person tribe is often an unwinnable scenario. As we saw with Rick's sad departure: in Kelley, Lauren and Wardog, he and David found themselves up against probably the tightest three-person group in the game. One of David or Rick was pretty much guaranteed to be gone if Lesu lost. And lose they did.
This was also predictable, and an odds-on likelihood, because of another problem with swapping up to three tribes: The new tribe is always at a disadvantage. Lesu demonstrated this amply. They were exhausted from building a new camp, which neither of the other tribes had to do. Maybe in the future, if it's a straight even five-five-five swap, give the new tribe a pre-built rudimentary shelter?
Secondly, they weren't helped at all by the challenge. Historically, the immediate post-swap challenges have emphasized teamwork and/or skill (shooting baskets, blindfolded retrieval, lassoing things) over brute strength ... but not this time. Lesu was physically overmatched to begin with (even though the swap guaranteed Lesu three men), especially by Kama, and were further worn down by shelter-building. Had the new Kama tribe been the one forced to construct a new camp, they probably would have been fine. Instead, Lesu lost, and David and Rick were swap-screwed. (Questions about Lauren's health being the only variable.)
Contrast that to being down, say, 2-to-5 on a larger, seven-person tribe (back in the days of swaps with 14 left). There are a lot more potential combinations that can happen with that many people, even when there are only three days to find a crack. Would it be possible to go back to that, at least once in a while? It's supposed to be Outwit, Outplay... etc. Not Outluck. (True, it's always also been outluck to some degree. This just seems to amplify it.)
Luck created an opportunity for a Wendy to avoid Tribal Council for once. Which is great! Luck also took away what seemed like a serious opportunity to win, from one of the most entertaining new contestants. Sigh.
- Anglim Bridge-Burning Avoidance update: Another week, another immunity win for Joe. (He's now tied for #9 on the all-time list for tribal or team challenge wins.) This also means Joe has now played 48 consecutive days of Survivor without voting anyone out. Of that time, 27 days has come from simply not going to Tribal by winning (and/or not losing) pre-merge challenges, both in Cambodia and here. It's a crazy streak, and hopefully it keeps going long enough that we have time to put it in proper historical context.
- Challenge advance: The decision to make the two-sided vertical puzzle (above) completely asymmetric was a good choice, because it avoided the unfair-seeming almost-right situation that emerged in Cambodia. (Using the now-two immunity idols as the picture was also a nice touch.) See, the show can learn from past mistakes!
- Grist for the Extinction vs. Redemption mill: The last time Redemption was used, in Blood vs. Water, at least the duels were finally worthwhile viewing, because the booted people were free to vent their outrage at those who had voted them out. ("F*** you, Brad Culpepper!") Redemption was still a waste of time overall because of course the people who returned to the game were voted right back out again, as always, but it seemed like there was finally at least a tiny bit of progress being made with the duels. So the decision to re-do Redemption here, while taking away the one part of it that actually worked (public duels) is ... an odd choice.
- I'm not tired of *you* and the f***ing chickens: Eric's confessional about Wendy releasing the chickens being interrupted by clucking from an actual chicken wandering nearby was perhaps the best moment this season. (Although, again, the Ron "20 minutes earlier" flashback was also great.)
- Nomenclature dilemma: The ex-Kamas now on Manu are now calling themselves Manu 2.0. But wait, shouldn't that be the Edge of Extinction people? (Or are they Manu/2?)
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, you can do so on twitter: @truedorktimes
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